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5996 Beverly Hills Road
Coopersburg PA 18036-2603
November 15, 2001
To the League Board of Directors:
For three years in the mid-1990s, Cosy Simon, June Thaden and Sally Berriman lobbied me doggedly to join the LAB board. Primarily, they were impressed by my LABmembers essays about how the League’s Effective Cycling program could grow and prosper, and my insights into how to make that happen.
What a difference half a decade makes. Effective November 16, I am resigning from the LAB board, under pressure, due to differences of opinion about the League’s education program (now called Bike Ed). The circumstances are not happy for me personally. But they are worse for the League, which has seen a crumbling of the education program’s quality and reputation this year.
My farewell letter to you is about this program, how it got to where it was, the circumstances leading to my resignation, and what you, as a board, need to do to fix the education program.
The problems the education program faces go beyond the normal scope of the education committee’s recommendations — or the recommendations of any normal committee — because they are much intertwined with personnel matters, and with the failure of the executive director to address the program’s flaws in a timely manner. My efforts to get the executive director to address these concerns were met with a series of brush-offs. Hence, this has become a board problem.
You will not fix this problem with the level of guidance you have previously
given to this executive director. You can only fix it by directing her to do
some things she has told me she doesn’t want to do, and by giving her very
Among this year’s disasters:
These unqualified people were allowed to take the LCI seminar because the LAB staff, without getting agreement from the education committee, eliminated most or all the pre-seminar requirements.(1)
Even after the complaints about unqualified LCI candidates were loud; after embarrassing essays about the seminars were to be found all over the Internet, and the education committee made rather pointed remarks about the qualification problem, the staff continued to allow unqualified people into seminars, without even attempting to have the requirements. Some attendees at the October seminars had not fulfilled any of the entrance requirements. (To me, this says the staff really doesn’t take those requirements seriously. Whatever excuses the staff makes at the board meeting should be taken with great skepticism. When they were running the show, they didn’t think the requirements were worth having, and decided behind the backs of the education committee and board to abrogate those requirements.) (2)
We have alienated many of education’s strongest supporters to the point where I am now getting E-mails from several people who want to approach the Red Cross to sponsor a revamped Effective Cycling program.
The seminar content itself was badly weakened. The first version, taught in the spring of this year, had virtually no content on how to teach. (That’s what the seminars are supposed to be about!) The seminar time was cut in half (approximately), and the content that was selected for this new, shorter format was not well thought out.
The LAB Program Director made all these changes to the seminar content and entrance requirements without asking for the help he clearly needed, even though he had never taught a single Bike Ed course himself.(3)
The LAB executive director and program director seemed to view these events not as a disaster that required firm action, but rather a normal bump in the road, to be soothed out by normal copy editing. Throughout the year 2001, they have underreacted to rather extreme problems, and never have they shown any willingness to acknowledge the extent of their errors. Until they acknowledge this, they will not embrace the fact that they are incapable of writing an education program by themselves, and they need an entirely different level of oversight from the education committee, regional trainers, and authors of the original curricula.
The executive director clearly did not watch over the process to make sure the October seminars would be run correctly. She didn’t even know where the Virginia seminar was being held. This is a very clear sign that she had too much faith that the program director could correct his own mistakes without close supervision. He didn’t and he can’t, and the executive director needs to act accordingly.
From the beginning, the LAB staff never provided the education committee — or any other oversight body — with a list of proposed changes. There were some meetings, and some phone calls, but never was an oversight group defined, informed of all proposed changes, and asked to act on them.
We graduated an LCI who is a high school student, without ever addressing the question what the minimum age for LCI certification should be, or seeing if our insurance company would cover this individual’s teaching.
I’m told we graduated one LCI who never even attended a seminar. He’d sent in his money, but never appeared. I’m also told that this "administrative error" was "fixed," but this suggests that the intent was to automatically grant certification to all attendees with no testing for competence.
The decision to change the seminars at all was a surprise to many of us. While it’s possible that the education committee may have been told the seminars would be shortened (we had one conference phone call in 2001, and it might have been mentioned at that time, among many other subjects), the committee was most emphatically not informed in a way appropriately thorough, given the radical nature of the change. ("Dear Education committee: We need your oversight on a radical plan to cut the length of LCI seminars in half and eliminate all prerequisites.")
The process by which the staff gets input from the education committee is gravely flawed. Instead of outlining the big picture of proposed changes and asking for overall comments, the education committee gets asked very small, specific questions — as if staff didn’t need input on the big picture.(4)
I fear that the same process that generated poor seminar content and unqualified LCIs is now rewriting course content. To name one small example, the seminar manual now includes a rough outline for the not-yet-written Road III course. The outline is far, far from what the original authors of the module system had in mind for Road III, and I think much of the content is inappropriate.The proposed Road III content (as written by LAB staff during 2001) includes tumbling, track stands, lateral bunny hops and advanced maintenance work. It doesn’t mention any specific group riding skills, but it a includes a warning that the group riding skills taught in the course are dangerous. This is an unspeakably lousy course outline. First of all, it’s far too much content for a single course. Second, it includes maneuvers that many people can’t or won’t learn and wouldn’t find useful; and the maintenance information is a low priority because it is available elsewhere. Third of all, if group riding is dangerous, then it isn’t being taught well. What happened to the original Road III concept of teaching advanced group riding skills and more traffic situations? Someone acting without adequate supervision thought he knew better.
I first became aware there was a problem in April 2001, when Bill Hoffman reviewed one of the seminars and detailed its shortcomings. For many months, I did nothing about this situation. I relied on the verbal promise that our executive director had made in July 2000, at the St. Paul board meeting, that she would supervise the program director more closely (after he had annoyed some board members by announcing program changes he didn’t have the authority to make).
During the summer, the e-mail traffic about the poor quality of the LCI seminars continued. I received very negative comments about the Davis, California seminar from several attendees. What I didn’t hear was any noise from K Street that they were on top of the problem, and dealing with it.
The education committee met at the Altoona rally (the first and only face-to-face meeting it has held during my 4 1/2 years on that committee). None of the comments about the new seminars or the lack of entrance requirements were favorable. Barbara Sturges, the committee chair, made it clear that she did not want the committee report to delve into personnel matters or appear overly negative. This created a situation wherein the committee report didn’t have a place to address many of the concerns I have noted above in this memo. And I still didn’t see any recognition from the K Street crowd that they acknowledged the size of the problem.
So I tried to take action. I sent Elissa an August 22 E-mail (a copy of which is at the end of this letter) in which I basically stated, "the problem isn’t going to go away; you’ve got to increase your involvement." I also made a phone call. It was the first phone call I’d ever had with Elissa that disappointed me. I felt stonewalled. She urged me to "see the good in Mike," and made no commitment to respond to the gravity of the problem.
I then joined with Bill Hoffman in writing a September 23 education committee "minority report"(5) (also at the end of this document) which reiterated our cry that Elissa needed to sit on these issues more closely.
After about two weeks, Elissa agreed to a joint phone call with Bill and myself. The call was a disaster. Elissa gave what I felt was a condescending speech about how dedicated she was to the League, and said she had no incentive to have a low-quality education program. I felt these vague, hand-waving remarks had no place in a call about specific problems and the urgent need to enact specific remedies, and I became quite angry. And again, Elissa resisted committing herself to addressing the root problems. (Shortly thereafter, I would learn how poorly qualified some of the seminar attendees in Texas were. One of them didn’t even bring a bike to the seminar. I’m offended that she would offer these vacuous bromides in support of her work while at the same time presiding over such poor preparation for the seminars.)
Shortly after that phone call, I learned that Elissa had complained to Chris, and I was being de-nominated from my seat on the board, kicked off the education committee, and asked to resign prior to the November meeting.
Chris and I have and numerous long conversations about this, and they haven’t been much fun. I don’t agree with his approach, which I believe smacks of shooting the messenger. I believe that getting rid of me instead of telling Elissa to shape up and address the problem she allowed to fester sends a dangerous message. I fear that the League is in danger of letting the education program continue with some of the defects that were written into it in 2001, because it’s easier to not bother to change everything back, especially when the staff is uncooperative.
However, I’ve agreed to let Chris do it his way for three reasons:
(1) I’m deferring to his authority as board president.
(2) Chris states that this whole thing has degenerated into a personal issue between myself and some others (notably Elissa). To the extent that that’s true, I think it’s Elissa’s fault and her problem. But at the end of the day, we all need to be more concerned with fixing problems than with finding fault, and if Elissa will do for y’all what she repeatedly refused to do in response to my increasingly shrill entreaties, that would fix the problem.
(3) I have tickets to see Harry Potter with my kids and several of their friends on opening night.
What’s the finish line? What problems need to be addressed? When can the board be certain that the curmudgeons are satisfied? Here’s the list:
This is a problem whose solution defies easy description. There’s the "do nothing and pray" option. If the incompetent instructors don’t try to teach, and don’t renew their certification, this will work. There’s the "recall the certificates" option. It wouldn’t make sense to recall all certificates, just those of people who demonstrated incompetence in the seminars — if the seminar instructor kept good enough records to know which people those were. There may be other options, and I hope you find a good one.
As some of you know, I was once an expert witness for the plaintiff in a lawsuit stemming from poor instruction in a bicycling class. My expert report cited the League’s Effective Cycling program as the standard of care that would have prevented the plaintiff’s injuries.
Even the competent instructors attended crummy seminars, and they deserve better.(6) I suggest offering any attendees at the truly bad seminars (the first Bethlehem seminar, the Madison, Davis and Portland seminars — did I forget any?) free passage and $200 towards travel expense to attend a good seminar, with all attendance prerequisites enforced.
The executive director’s poor performance needs to be addressed. This year, she fiddled while Rome burned. We graduated incompetent instructors and badly damaged our reputation, while the best she could do was protest that "I have no incentive to have a bad education program." Incentives notwithstanding, that is exactly what she does have. A year ago, we had none of these problems. The League spent a lot of member money and NHTSA grant money to wind up worse off than it had been a year earlier.
Here’s where micromanagement comes in: The executive director needs to be instructed to supervise the program director much more closely. However, since the executive director lacks the bicycle-specific expertise to correct the program director’s program errors, the League cannot continue responsibly unless it uses experts among the LCIs, board, regional trainers, education committee, and authors of the original LCI curricula more actively. No longer can the League believe that the education program has appropriate review and oversight if the education committee responds only to those questions that the program director thinks to ask. The League must revert to having very specific oversight of all writing and rewriting of materials.(7) We don’t have staff that can do this work without a high level of oversight.
Curse my ego all you want, but I think John Schubert deserves a report on how LAB is going to solve this problem. I would like a phone call with specifics, preferably from the executive director, any time between now and December 10.
I have four more attachments I haven’t yet specifically mentioned: (1) a portion of the E-mail discussion about having the Red Cross sponsor Effective Cycling; (2) A letter from a Road I and Road II graduate that shows what our reputation is becoming; (3) An LCI’s wonderful essay detailing the woes of the Davis LCI seminar; (4) An account of the LAB Program Director’s unprofessional behavior, written by an LCI who happens to be a dot-com CEO in regular life. (Note that this unprofessional behavior occurred at the same seminar where that program director engaged in a fist fight Also note that your executive director did not extend to me the courtesy of a reply when I sent her this account.) [This comment not in the original letter: Other reports have described a shouting match rather than a fistfight].
Feel like you need a shower? Heavied out by all the negativity? Remember there was a six-month period during which your executive director could have acted proactively, and prevented this problem. She chose not to, and rebuffed suggestions that she do so.
Do not, under any circumstances, make compromises with bad practices just because they are in place. Demand that all bad practices be removed and reversed, so the discussion about making Bike Ed available to more people can begin with a clean slate.
Do not, under any circumstances, refer to John Schubert as someone who didn’t want the Bike Ed program to change, to become more flexible, to become more widely available. That’s what I joined this board to do.
The League board is a fine group of people. Please, each of you, keep in touch with me. I wish you every success in handling the Bike Ed problems and all other issues before you.
(1) August 22 E-mail from JS to Elissa
(2) September 23 education committee minority report
(3) A page from a hypothetical deposition
(4) Red Cross Effective Cycling discussion
(5) Letter from a constituent
(6) A League Cycling Instructor’s critique of the Davis seminar
[Removed from this Web posting because the author cannot give permission due to job concerns.]
(7) The LAB program director’s unprofessional behavior
[Not included because the person making these comments did not give permission to have them published.]
1) The requirements: two written references, passing a written exam that I believe is a very good exam and a good requirement, and passing Road I. An alternative way to gain entry to the seminars has been available for a while, for people who do not have access to a Road I class: pass a tougher written exam and submit a detailed cue sheet for a 50-mile ride you did.
2) The education committee was officially under the impression that the old entrance requirements would be followed for the October seminar. Specifically, in an August 23, 2001 memorandum, Barb Sturges wrote, "a pre-exam is still required of LCI candidates and [each candidate] is expected to submit two recommendations. Road I is being required . . ."
3) The original seminar content had two things going for it: (1) It was a collaborative effort with quite a few experts having reviewed it as it was written, hence it had buy-in from the League’s education-oriented members. (2) Its two principal authors had a master’s degree and Ph.D. in education, and used this expertise to make the course content relevant. Many of their insights were simply wiped out in the careless rewrite of the seminar content.
4) In response to this gap, the education committee wrote to the staff that it wanted a revision tracking document of all course changes. The executive director’s verbal response to me on that point was one of annoyance: "I don’t know when you’ll get that."
5) Although only Bill Hoffman and I signed the report, you should not conclude from this that all other education committee members disagreed with that report. Specifically, Peter Fluke, Linda Crider and Preston Tyree all told me they didn’t have time to read it and make up their minds.
6) Precedent: I once attended a seminar by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association that I felt was poorly taught because the seminar instructor’s ego got in the way of clear explanations. I wrote AOPA a full description of the inadequacies of the seminar, and asked for free attendance at a similar seminar with a different instructor. AOPA wrote back, thanking me for my careful comments and giving me the free attendance I asked for. Travel expenses were not an issue in this case because their seminars are held in more locations than LCI seminars.
7) One example of this is the revision tracking document I mentioned earlier. I consider this an essential item. I have previously provided the education committee and the executive director with plenty of commentary on the specific procedures that need to be followed.
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